Every angler will tell you that there’s a pretty big difference between fishing and catching fish. Plus, nothing’s more disappointing than spending a day on the water and going home empty-handed.
Enter the best kayak fish finder – a sonar-equipped gadget that will transform your kayak into an efficient fish-catching machine by helping you find the perfect fishing spot and increasing your odds of making a catch.
But how do you pick one when the recent rise of fish-finding tech filled the market with all these different options?
Keep on reading, and we’ll figure it out together!
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In A Rush? The Winner After 42 Hours Of Research:
Garmin Striker 4 Fish Finder
Why is it better?
- Fitted with a dual beam CHIRP transducer with dual 77 – 200 kHz frequencies
- A beam scan angle of 15 to 45 degrees
- Internal, high-precision GPS with waypoint mapping
- A 3.5-inch HVGA colored display remains easy-to-see in direct sunlight
- Maximum depth of 1600 feet in fresh – and 750 feet in saltwater
- Waterproof rating of IPX7
- Loaded with additional features, including temperature and speed sensors, built-in flasher, Split-Zoom, and Fish Symbol ID
- Comes with a tilt-and-swivel mount
In-Depth Best Kayak Fish Finder Buying Guide For Anglers
When kayak fishing, if you want to tip the odds of catching in your favour, you will need a well researched fishing location, like those found using our free best fishing spots maps, and the best fishing tech.
Kayak fish finder is a gadget that helps you locate fish, or crabs, and make a catch rather than casting into empty water.
And, is one of my top 5 kayak mods and best fishing accessories – a real must have for any budding kayak angler.
That sounds simple enough, right?
Still, there are many things you should learn about these nifty gadgets before you can choose the best kayak depth finder, especially if you never used one before.
Moreover, your decision should be based on several factors, some more crucial than others, depending on how and where you’ll be using it.
That’s why I put together this thorough guide to explain how to pick the best kayak fish finder for you. I’ve separated it into important sections you should investigate before making a decision.
Let’s get down to business!
Portable Or Fixed Fish Finder?
If you already browsed through the fish finder market, you probably noticed that these units come in various shapes and sizes.
The larger the fish finder unit, the more space it takes up onboard – and the less portable it is. And what good is it if you can’t bring it with you on all your fishing trips?
Lightweight and compact is almost always the way to go with these types of kayak fishing gadgets.
Another thing you may have noticed is that they can be either portable or permanent.
You might be wondering: Are portable fish finders any good, or should you go with a fixed solution?
For the most part, I’d say that this is mostly a matter of preference:
- Portable Fish Finders – a more convenient option for most kayaks. They take up little space on board and can be easily mounted (and detached) when needed. Some are even handheld and utilize Bluetooth connectivity to pair with your smartphone for ultimate portability and convenience!
- Fixed Fish Finders – This type of fish finder is installed permanently, so it’s generally best suited for larger boats, rather than kayaks. The initial setup is somewhat complicated – and permanent – but if you don’t plan on switching kayaks anytime soon, you could give them a shot.
Do note that they cost more than their portable counterparts, though.
Fishing Kayaks aren’t exactly known for being roomy, so it’s essential to keep an eye on the mounting space and mount points you have available for the fish finder.
Think about it:
You’ll have to fit a fish finder mount, a 12V battery, cables, the actual fish finder unit – on top of everything else you typically bring on a fishing trip – inside your kayak.
More often than not, mounting space dictates the format of the fish finder for kayaks:
For smaller fishing kayaks, a 3.5 to 4-inch screen should be more than enough, especially if mounted somewhere where you can view and access the fish finder with ease. Fitting a 5-inch display shouldn’t be an issue in larger fishing kayaks, though.
That brings me to my next point.
Let’s Talk Displays
Get the biggest possible screen that fits within your budget; that’s the rule most of us follow when choosing any type of display.
However, be sure not to sacrifice quality along the way; bigger isn’t always better in terms of display size. Screen resolution is an important value to consider.
A fish finder with a smaller screen but with higher display resolution could still be easier to read than a large one with not-so-stellar resolution.
Moreover, as mentioned earlier, your onboard space will be somewhat limited, so size-wise, you have to nail that balance between an easy-to-read and an easy-to-miss screen. Nothing spells disaster as fast as having the display get in the way of your paddling.
Also, make sure that you can see what’s going on and read the screen even in direct sunlight. A fish finder with a display that is glare-resistant and preferably colored is your best bet here.
How To Power A Fish Finder In A Kayak?
Power determines how efficient the unit will be in sending and picking up signals – more powerful fish finders typically emit stronger signals, resulting in faster, more accurate readings.
Considering that these units tend to be more expensive, you should only really get them if you plan on kayak fishing in deeper water. If you generally stick to shallow waters, such an investment wouldn’t make much sense.
But how do you power a fish finder?
Built-in rechargeable batteries are, obviously, the most convenient – and eco-friendly – option, since they don’t take up any onboard space and can be recharged, rather than replaced, whenever they run out of juice.
Disposable batteries are another common power source for portable depth finders and can come in handy during extended fishing trips where you won’t have access to electricity.
Last but not least, you have external power sources:
A 12V power supply should be more than enough for most fish finders, and will typically last you a couple of trips before requiring a recharge.
Don’t have a fish finder battery yet? Find my best kayak fish finder battery reviews here, with a few more great options!
Transducer Style & Compatibility
The transducer – the sonar system that shoots out beams of sound waves and creates underwater imagery – defines the fish finder as such. You wouldn’t have a clue what’s going on below the surface without one.
So, yes, I’d say that it’s a pretty crucial component to consider.
Here are the three key factors that dictate the transducer’s efficiency and the fish finder’s overall performance:
- Cone Angles – Transducers shoot cone-shaped beams, and the broader they are, the larger the sonar’s coverage area. While transducer cone angles can vary from 9 to 60 degrees, a 20-degree one should be more than enough for most applications.
- Beams – Standard transducers feature a single beam, but dual and triple-beam units are also an option. Your fish finder’s coverage area increases with each additional beam, so it’s worth investing in – even if it comes at a higher price.
- Frequencies – The lower, 50-kHz frequencies rule the shallow waters, while higher ones, ranging from 192 to 200 kHz, carry more information and are best suited for deep waters. That’s why most transducers utilize dual frequencies.
For state-of-the-art fish finders, the scanning sonar technology ‘CHIRP’, or Compressed High-Intensity Radiated Pulse, is the way to go.
It’s worth noting that some fishing kayak manufacturers teamed up with the best fish finder brands to create dedicated transducer mounting spots – be it in the hull, near the rudder, or in the scupper holes – for seamless integration. Others, however, are floatable and dangle freely in the water.
Are Fish Finders Waterproof?
Not all of them are – but the best kayak fish finders should be waterproof. That’s all I’m going to say.
All jokes aside, though, you’ll be out on the water, exposed to the not-so-predictable conditions.
Does that sound like a scenario where some level of water-resistance wouldn’t come in handy?
Regardless of how careful you are, your fish finder will come into contact with water. So, it’s best to play it safe and get one that offers a higher level of water resistance, or, at the very least, get a heavy-duty protective case that will keep the fish finder safe.
Best Kayak Fish Finders – Top 8 Fish Finders For Kayaks Reviewed
Best Fish Finder For Deep Water
Humminbird – Helix 5 CHIRP GPS SI GPS G2 Fish Finder
The first one up is Humminbird Helix 5 – a fantastic fishing gadget, albeit not an affordable one. I figured I should get that out of the way before introducing you to its impressive round-up of features.
The CHIRP dual-beam sonar works with two different frequencies – 83/200 kHz – ensuring excellent coverage and detailed imagining, with the beams penetrating to the depth of 1500 feet. It’s GPS equipped and powered by a 12V battery, which isn’t part of the package.
Make note, this isn’t the standard Helix 5 model! This is the side imaging fish finder unit (SI) – an addition to CHIRP DownVision, side imaging will provide a phenomenal side-to-side point of view on the world beneath the surface.
I’m sure that no fish or waterbed feature will go unnoticed, especially considering that it also features the largest screen on the list – a 5-inch WVGA display.
- CHIRP dual-beam sonar imaging
- 83/200 kHz frequency
- 5-inch colored WVGA display
- 1500 feet maximum depth range
- CHIRP dual-beam sonar
- Side Imaging enhances waterbed profiling
- Penetrates to depths of 1500 feet
- A large, 5-inch colored display screen, in landscape orientation, for wide viewing
- GPS enabled for easy navigation
- Has an MicroSD card slot
- There are cheaper options that offer a bit moreIt’s a relatively expensive kayak depth finder
- Some may find the options and settings a bit confusing
- Low-quality mount and mounting hardware
- Poorly written instructions manualThere are cheaper options that offer a bit more
More detailed imaging, more advanced features, and more screen space. The price of this fish finder is a bit high, but it’s worth it for deep waters!
Best Kayak Fish Finder
Garmin Striker 4 Fish Finder
The name “Garmin” grabbed your attention, didn’t it?
Well, then, let’s see if Garmin Striker 4’s construction, features and functionality live up to the hype.
The dual-beam Clear VU CHIRP sonar with dual – 77/200 kHz – frequencies already comes with a promise of above-average transducer performance and detailed readings, shown on the 3.5-inch colored display.
You can also create you own personalized fishing maps; plan your routes, mark your favorite fishing spots, and navigate unfamiliar waters with GPS compatibility.
It comes with an IPX7 water-resistance rating and has a depth range of 750 to 1600 feet in salt- and freshwater, respectively. So, no complaints there, either.
It does require a 12 volt Lithium-ion battery, though, which hinders its portability a bit.
- Clear VU CHIRP dual-beam sonar imaging
- 77/200 kHz frequency
- 3.5-inch colored display
- 1600 feet maximum depth range
- Built-in GPS
- Dual-beam CHIRP sonar with tons of additional functions
- Rock solid design with an easy to use keyed interface
- An IPX7 waterproof rating
- GPS enabled with waypoint mapping
- Good display size and screen resolution which is easy to view
- Easy to mount
- For salt- and freshwater use
- Impressive depth ratings igging and multiple storage hatches
- The instructions manual wasn’t particularly useful
- Requires an external 12V battery for power
- Features may be overkill for kayak fishing trips on local lakes
Portable, waterproof, equipped with a CHIRP sonar and GPS; it’s the definition of the best kayak depth finder. I can’t find a reason not to recommend the Garmin Striker 4!
Best Compact Fish Finder
HawkEye FishTrax 1C Fish Finder
The HawkEye FishTrax 1C is likely one of the most compact models of fish finders I came across. The 3-inch VirtuView HD color display, a floatable, boat-mountable, troll-able sensor, and the four AAA batteries that power it; it’s all about portability.
The intelligent dual-beam FishTrax sonar and dual 83/200 kHz frequency detect fish at depths of up to 240 feet. It also offers three modes of operation – Fish Finder, Ice-Mode DigitalFlasher, and Data – integrated fish and depth alarms, sensitivity adjustments, and FishArc and FishID indicators with precise depth targeting.
How’s that for a gadget that fits in the palm of your hand?
- FishTrax dual-beam sonar
- 83/200 kHz frequency
- 3.5-inch VirtuView colored display
- 240 feet maximum depth range
- A compact and lightweight design
- Dual-beam sonar imaging with two operating frequencies
- Three modes of operation
- Audible fish and depth alarms
- Solid battery life
- Display quality can’t compete with the Humminbird
- Doesn’t indicate the size of the fish
- It’s not waterproof
- Some may find the screen small
Portability and compactness, coupled with minimal sacrifices in performance, made this an instant attraction. If you’re short on space, HawkEye fish finder is the way to go.
Best Premium Fish Finder
Lowrance HOOK 2 – Fish Finder
The not-so-budget-friendly price tag of this fish finder is hard to ignore. Still, if you want a pro-level device that’s both feature-rich and easy to use, you should at least consider the Lowrance HOOK2.
One thing that justifies the price tag – to a degree, at least – is the TripleShot transducer with wide-angle CHIRP sonar technology and both down- and side-scan imaging.
HOOK2 has auto-tuning sonar, an SD card slot, and a large, 5-inch SolarMAX screen, complete with a smartphone-like menu that ensures ease of use. Plus, shipped with GPS as standard, it’s pre-loaded with high-detail US mapping with 4000 lakes in its base.
All this makes the HOOK2 a power-hungry unit, which is why it requires a 12V battery.
- TripleShot transducer
- 200 kHz frequency
- 5-inch SolarMAX colored display
- 300 to 500 feet maximum depth range
- Excellent choice of inbuilt features
- TripleShot wide-coverage transducer
- Auto-tuning sonar and user-friendly interface
- Super clear, 5-inch, high resolution SolarMAX display
- GPS enabled, SD card slot, with preloaded US mapping with 4000 lakes
- It’s the most expensive model on my list
- Best suited to a fixed mount
- A somewhat bulky transducer
- The transducer is made of plastic and feels a bit fragile
The HOOK2 fish finder will make quite a dent in your budget – but the auto-tuning sonar, pre-loaded GPS mapping, an SD card slot, and 5-inch display are worth it.
Best Portable Kayak Fish Finder
LUCKY Fish Finders for Boats Kayak Fish Finder
If you’d like to get more complex readings, this LUCKY fish finder could be your best bet. And no, luck has nothing to do with it:
The unit, powered by four AAA batteries, allows you to choose a fishing mode – General, Shallow water, Raft, Ice Fishing, or Slope – depending on the environment. It offers some useful additional features, such as; water temperature and air pressure read-outs, on top of acting as a fish finder.
The single-beam sonar has 5 sensitivity modes and detects water depth, approximate fish locations, recognizes waterbed features at depths of 328 feet – and even alerts you when fish appear. It’s pretty impressive that this fish finder manages to pack all that info into a small 2.2-inch display.
- Single-beam sonar imaging
- 200 kHz frequency
- 2.2-inch colored LCD screen
- 328 feet maximum depth range
- Multiple fishing modes with varying sensitivity levels
- Fish alarm, depth, and bottom contour read-outs
- Detects water temperature and air pressure
- Flexible mounting options
- It’s a shame that this model isn’t waterproof
- The 2.2-inch display size is a bit too small
- Hard to see the read-outs in direct sunlight
- Suction cup mounts allow for easy attachment to the kayak hull
Although it doesn’t stand out in any particular area, it’s a good fish finder option if you want to keep tabs on more than just fish locations.
Best Budget Fish Finder
LUCKY Portable Fish Finder with Sonar Transducer
Next, this less expensive option from the same brand – Lucky – should be considered if you want something simple but functional.
The wired transducer works at a 200 kHz frequency, has a 45-degree beam scan angle, and a depth range of up to 328 feet – enough for shallow waters. The four AAA batteries typically last four to five hours, but the optional battery-saving mode does help.
It features fish alarms and five-level adjustable sensitivity for different applications. You’ll see fish locations along with water depth, sand, rocks, and weeds.
It has the smallest display on the list, though – a 2-inch LCD color screen with an optional backlight – which could be a deal-breaker for some.
- Single-beam sonar imaging
- 200 kHz frequency
- 2-inch ANTI-UV colored LCD screen
- 328 feet maximum depth range
- Displays fish location and depth with optional fish alarms
- Five-level adjustable sensitivity
- Color LCD with a backlight for night use
- Includes a neck strap
- A tiny LCD screen
- The batteries only last four to five hours
- The model isn’t waterproof
- The cable is somewhat short for casting
This super cheap fish finder unit proves that kayak anglers don’t necessarily have to spend a fortune to get a functional fish scanner. You’d be Lucky – pun intended – to get it!
Best Bluetooth Fish Finder
ReelSonar iBobber Wireless Bluetooth Smart Fish Finder
Another relatively budget-friendly option worth considering here is the iBobber by ReelSonar:
The flexible, compact-sized device utilizes Bluetooth Smart technology to sync up with (and display information through) your smartphone using a dedicated iOS or Android app. Oh, and the app is free!
The transducer can be attached to a fishing line and then cast into the water. It picks up data such as fish location and waterbed structure at a limited 135-foot depth. Other welcome features include the built-in LED beacon, color-coded fish icons, alarms, GPS enabled spot tagging, and trip log.
The iBobber uses an impressive, 10-hour rechargeable battery, which is a definite plus.
- Single-beam transducer
- Frequency not specified
- Uses a smartphone display
- 135 feet maximum depth range
- Exceptional portability with wireless technology
- Pairs with iOS and Android smartphones
- LED beacon for nighttime fishing
- Uses a rechargeable battery
- Saltwater and freshwater use
- May mislabel plants as fish
- Doesn’t work well in choppy waters
- Bluetooth connection range could be better
- Depth range limited to 135 feet
It doesn’t quite measure up specs-wise, but if having Bluetooth connectivity is a priority, the iBobber could be the mobile fish finder for you.
Best Fish-Finding Drone
PowerVision PowerDolphin Wizard (Drone) Mobile Fish Finder
Here you’re looking at a remote-controlled, camera-equipped water surface drone with fish-finding capabilities. And yes, the PowerDolphin is as expensive as it sounds.
This PowerVision aquatic drone boasts a 4K UHD camera, a 0.5-mile image transmission range, PowerSeeker sonar with 262-foot maximum depth, and a bait box for fishing. So, not only do you get to take some stunning shots but can discover optimal fishing spots along the way, too!
And while the two-hour battery life is pretty impressive for a drone, it might not be enough if you plan on putting its fish-finding abilities to use.
- PowerSeeker sonar technology
- Frequency not specified
- Uses a smartphone display
- 262 feet maximum depth range
- A wide-angle 4K UHD camera captures images above and underwater
- Incorporates sonar technology for detecting fish and underwater topography
- External fishing bait container for attracting fish
- The price tag is a bit too much
- It’s not a dedicated kayak depth finder
- The battery lasts around two hours max
PowerDolphin might be one of the coolest-looking fishing gadgets I came across recently. An aquatic drone that can snap photos and find fish – how awesome is that?
Runner Up – Best Fish Finder for Kayak
Raymarine Dragonfly 5 Pro (replacement for Dragonfly 4 Pro)
The Raymine Dragon 5-Pro has big boots to fill – marketed as the replacement for, the now retired, Dragon 4-Pro and little brother to the Dragonfly 7-Pro.
The high resolution 5-inch colored display is super bright, by far the brightest of all the devices in this review – excellent viewing angle – you will have no trouble reading the display even on the sunniest of summer days. The major benefit the 5-Pro has over it’s smaller predecessor is the wider screen allows for a greater imaging history to be displayed.
Its dual CHIRP DownVision signal processing can map water features upto a depth of 600 feet. The 10hz GPS antenna provides accurate satellite tracking and is available with either Navionics, C-MAP by Jeppesen or Raymarine LightHouse charts.
Like the 7-Pro it is equipped with Wifi and can be paired with a mobile device using the Raymarine Wi-Fish app. The app allows the screen to be shared or extended; meaning that your smartphone could be displaying sonar tracking whilst the main unit is being used for charting in real-time.
The ball mount provides a highly articulated movement, making dialing in that perfect viewing angle when attached to your fishing kayak a breeze.
The unit is simple to set up and use, especially when you compare it to its rivals such as the Helix 5. The membrane covered navigation buttons are responsive, I personally prefer them to the joystick on the 7-Pro which feels clunky and difficult to control with my larger fingers.
The unit is direct power only so will require a 12V battery. One thing I will say is, it takes a while to load when you first power it up – a mild annoyance but doesn’t distract from the overall use.
- Dual-beam sonar imaging
- Wifi and GPS enabled
- 5-inch colored 800 x 480 WVGA LCD screen
- 600 feet maximum depth range
- Bright 5-inch display with wide viewing angle
- All key features of the 7-Pro at half the cost
- Wifi enabled allows streaming of charts to a mobile screen
- Simple to set up and to use
- Would benefit from a side imaging sonar feature
- Although cheaper than its rival, it still has a premium price tag
- Slightly slow to load when powering up
- Charts not included
- Might not suit larger boats
Without question the Raymarine Dragon 5 Pro is a great successor to the 4-Pro. Everything about this portable fish finder screams quality. And, the price makes it an excellent high-end budget choice – a strong runner up to the Garmin Striker 4 – and definitely will enhance your fishing experience.
Conclusion – Best Fish Finders For Kayaks
The best fish finder for a kayak isn’t a one-size-fits-all type of gadget. It all depends on how and where you use it – and what works for one angler might not necessarily be the best kayak depth finder for you.
None of the fish finder options you saw today are “bad“ – only different.
The Humminbird Helix 5, for example, brought some mind-blowing features to the table. Still, not everyone has that kind of money to spend on a fish finder.
That’s why the Garmin Striker 4 wins this round and is crowned king of the fish finders!
It’s portable, easy to use, waterproof, GPS enabled, has fantastic depth ratings in saltwater and freshwater alike, and a dual beam CHIRP sonar that operates at dual frequencies. Most importantly, this is what makes all the difference – it doesn’t cost an arm and a leg.